The 72-year-old UPS driver is the first to pass the company's 50-year mark for safe driving as a member of UPS's "Circle of Honor," a group of about 5,200 active drivers that have spent 25 years or more accident free. Until Sowder, no driver in the company's history had hit 50 years.
A native of Springboro, Ohio, Sowder estimates during his time with UPS he's driven more than 4 million miles, transported more than 35 million packages and climbed into a UPS truck more than 12,000 times.
He began his UPS career in 1960 as a package car driver delivering to businesses and private residences. In 1976 he shifted to driving tractor-trailers on the open road and has served as a UPS feeder driver ever since. Currently, Sowder transports packages five days a week, making a 306-mile round trip between the distribution center in Dayton, Ohio, and the UPS Worldport global air hub in Louisville, Ky.
During the past 50 years, Sowder has seen his fair share of accidents. He says drivers seem to be getting more impatient and more distracted. His secret to safe driving (and earning his nickname, one he's had for more than 10 years) is following UPS's "Five Seeing Habits," five points all company drivers learn to promote safe driving. "I always maintain proper space," Sowder says. His advises other drives: "Leave yourself an out. No tailgating. Keep alert and keep your eyes moving."
Distracted driving, Sowder says, is one of the biggest problems he sees on the road today. "Some of my closest calls have been because of texting," he says. "I've seen some strange stuff: people reading the morning paper, doing their makeup, even shaving."
He welcomes new high-tech safety equipment such as collision warning and avoidance systems. "I've seen a lot of people in ditches over the years," he says. "If [that equipment] keeps someone awake, it's a good thing."
Sowder's historic mark was cause for quite a celebration. "The night before the ceremony, I ate at one of the best steakhouses I've ever been in," he says.
On Jan. 25, UPS joined Sowder's colleagues, friends and local dignitaries to applaud his accomplishment. "In the morning, there was a limo waiting for me in driveway, breakfast for everyone and lots of people," Sowder says. "It was over the top. I never expected anything like it; it was really great."
"Ron continues to set and reset the gold standard for our drivers," says Myron Gray, UPS president of U.S. operations. "He is an asset to UPS, a great example for all our drivers and a leader within his peer group of Circle of Honor members. It's operators like Ron who help ensure UPS is able to keep its promises to its customers."
In addition to continuing his record of safety, Sowder is looking forward to a nice retirement. "Lots of fishing and cruises," he says.